The boundaries of Herdade do Esporão, in the Alentejo region of Portugal, were established in the thirteenth century, and since then it has become increasingly famous for its wine and olive oil production.
Herdade do Esporão’s longstanding heritage means it houses an astonishing 194 grape varieties, most of which are indigenous Portuguese varieties, and 37 of which are in current production and have been selected because they best represent the Alentejo region. They are grown on schist-clay and granite soils derived from eruptive rock, and the vineyards’ location means they also benefit from many hours of sunshine each day.
The secret to Herdade do Esporão’s 460ha of vineyards, however, lies in the large central lake, which moderates the classically wide range of continental-Mediterranean temperatures that characterises the region and can make wine cultivation particularly difficult. This, twinned with the fact that some of their current vines are over 40 years old, is what makes their wines unique.
Despite the vineyard’s size, Esporão does not need casual labourers during the harvest: it has a team of around 100 people who have worked on the site for years, meaning they possess a loyalty and affection for the vineyards and always strive only to select the best grapes at harvest. They are also helping the estate work towards its certified organic status.
This dedication follows through to their winemaking team, led by Australian David Baverstock, a huge figure in Portuguese wine production. Their first winery – built in 1985 – functions as the beating heart of the estate: it functions almost exclusively with the help of gravity, and contains a number of tunnels and underground cellars that help them to regulate temperatures naturally. This is used for the red production, and another winery was built in 2002 which is now used exclusively to create their whites. A third, more traditional winery, dating back to 1999, is the home of their fine wine production.
Vinification is split between the everyday wines (such as Monte Velho) that are fermented in large steel tanks with an automatic pumping system, and the more premium wines that are fermented in smaller tanks with robotic presses designed to give intense maceration and extraction. They also have a large tunnel where wines are fermented in barrels, sometimes on their lees, in a mixture of roughly 70% American and 30% French oak. It is situated 12m underground, where the temperature is perfect without any need for artificial intervention, which of course can be costly both financially and environmentally.